Somnath Chatterjee dead: Who was Somnath Chatterjee?

Somnath Chatterjee dead: Who was Somnath Chatterjee?

Somnath Chatterjee was a 10-time MP who left a mark on Parliament with his spellbinding oratory (India Today file)

Somnath Chatterjee, a 10-time Member of Parliament and former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, died today at 89. The veteran Marxist leader died at a Kolkata hospital where he was on life support since August 10.

Somnath Chatterjee “had a forceful presence in the House”, President Ram Nath Kovind said. The former Lok Sabha Speaker was a “stalwart of Indian politics”, PM Modi said. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi called Chatterjee “an institution”.

Somnath Chatterjee was born in Assam’s Tezpur in 1929. He was educated at Presidency College in Kolkata and at Jesus College in Cambridge.

While in the United Kingdom, Chatterjee picked up a habit that may have been the harbinger of the career he ultimately led — Chatterjee, an India Today Magazine profile from 2004 notes, used to visit the British House of Commons (equivalent to the Indian Lok Sabha) to hear Winston Churchill and Clement Atlee (both of whom served as prime ministers of the United Kingdom).

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Chatterjee practised law for 18 years before he took a formal plunge into politics — in 1971, he contested the general elections for the first time, just three years after becoming a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal.

Over the next few decades, Chatterjee left a mark on Parliament and on Indian politics as a formidable orator. The India Today Magazine profile describes his parliamentary oratory as “spellbinding: packed with facts, lucid and persuasive. A rich baritone and gravitas complete the picture of authority.”

The only election Somnath Chatterjee lost in his political career was the one that brought Mamata Banerjee into limelight (India Today File)

Somnath Chatterjee went on to become a Member of Parliament for 10 times. The only time he lost a parliamentary election was in 1984 when a then-unknown Mamata Banerjee defeated him from Kolkata’s prestigious Jadavpur constituency.


In 1996, Chatterjee won the Best Parliamentarian award and eight years later, in 2004, was unanimously elected to the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post under the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government. By then Chatterjee had served as the Left’s spokesperson for 33 years.

His election to the Speaker’s chair was seen as the Left “sparing” Chatterjee for the country.

Four years later, however, the Left wasn’t so sparing. In July 2008, Chatterjee was expelled from the CPI(M) after he refused to toe the party line and resign as Lok Sabha Speaker.

Somnath Chatterjee with former West Bengal CM and veteran CPI(M) leader Jyoti Basu (India Today file)

That month, the party had withdrawn support to the Manmohan Singh government over its plans to sign a nuclear deal with the United States of America. The CPI(M) wanted Chatterjee to give up the Lok Sabha Speaker’s chair, but he refused, maintaining that his post was above party politics.


Chatterjee described his expulsion as “one of the saddest days” of his life.

“The speaker of Lok Sabha, like the speakers of other elected assemblies, while acting as such does not and cannot represent any political party,” he had said then.

Chatterjee went on to complete his term as the Lok Sabha Speaker. He completed his term in 2009 following which he quit active politics.

He is survived by wife Renu, a son and two daughters.

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